John Grohol at Psych Central wrote an article about withdrawal from psych meds in response to an email exchange he and I had in which I encouraged him to cover the very serious issues with psychiatric drug withdrawal…well, the conversation has been started but the severity of the problem has simply not been addressed…for example he makes comments like,
In some extreme cases, a specialist who focuses on helping people discontinue psychiatric drugs might prove helpful.
As if such specialists existed…and as if difficult withdrawals were truly a rarity. They’re not…they’re simply not generally recognized by the prescribers. What’s worse severe withdrawal is often blamed on the patient and explained away as “the underlying illness,” the translation being that what is sometimes very severe and grave illness is all in the heads of the crazy person who was appropriately taking psych meds to begin with. The ensuing method of treatment is almost always more drugs which quite often further complicates and harms the patient.
There are other problems with the article too…like the general assumption that psych drugs should be used to begin with or that there isn’t rampant inappropriate prescribing happening all the time. These assumptions should be questioned pretty much always. There are many other ways of approaching the treatment and healing of mental health issues that are rarely addressed at all in standard mental health settings.
For the numerous other ways to approach people in mental distress visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page. It’s worth demanding options and finding people who know they exist. There are people who know a different way. Seek them out. The best time to do this is before becoming dependent on drugs.
In any case, let’s thank John Grohol for getting the conversation started and leave some comments about the reality on the ground. This is an opportunity to share your knowledge and experience in a community who desperately needs to know the truth.
Read John Grohol’s article here: Withdrawal from Psychiatric Meds Can Be Painful, Lengthy
I’m also including Alto Strata’s response to John. She’s written several pieces worth reading on Beyond Meds too. You can see them collected here.
Here is her response to Grohol from Withdrawal from Psychiatric Meds Can Be Painful, Lengthy
Dr. Grohol, thank you for bringing this to the attention of Psych Central readers.
In the recursive echo chamber that is psychiatric research, psychiatry has published many articles emphasizing that withdrawal symptoms are mild and last only a few weeks. This includes Kotzalidis, 2007 quoted above.
(These papers also obtusely imply that withdrawal symptom patterns are idiosyncratic, rather identifying them as autonomic destabilization.)
One of Kotzalidis, 2007′s central sources is researcher Peter Haddad, who is cited in almost all antidepressant withdrawal studies.
In a 2001 paper, Dr. Haddad wrote:
Most reactions are mild and short-lived and require no treatment other than patient reassurance. Severe cases can be treated symptomatically or the antidepressant can be reinstated before being gradually withdrawn. Reinstatement usually leads to symptom resolution within 24 hours. Some individuals require very conservative tapering schedules to prevent the re-emergence of symptoms.
Author or co-author of many papers about antidepressant withdrawal, Dr. Haddad is always careful to say “usually” or “most” when it comes to sunny predictions about how long withdrawal syndrome takes to resolve, because he knows there are cases where it takes many months or even years to resolve.
Those reports of severe antidepressant withdrawal syndrome are unpublished and have been buried by the pharmaceutical companies, but researchers such as Haddad, Alan Schatzberg, and Richard Shelton are well aware of them.
Haddad goes on to say:
Discontinuation symptoms have received little systematic study with the result that most of the recommendations made here are based on anecdotal data or expert opinion. Research is needed to provide a firm evidence base for future recommendations.
The “expert opinion” comes from U.S. committees underwritten in 1997 by Lilly (manufacturer of Prozac) and 2006 by Wyeth (manufacturer of Effexor). (Schatzberg and Haddad served on both committees.)
“Expert opinion” about withdrawal syndrome, then, is molded, if not dictated, by commercial interests.
In short, whatever medicine knows about antidepressant withdrawal syndrome is based on anecdotes collected by a few researchers, recycled throughout the entire body of literature on the subject. This reflects the doctors’ opinions (possibly influenced by pharma consulting contracts), not the experience of patients.
If you want to see patient experiences, hundreds of thousands of posts all over the Web report withdrawal syndrome lasting many months or years.
I’m still recovering from my own withdrawal from Paxil in October 2004.
On my peer support web site for tapering and withdrawal syndrome, SurvivingAntidepressants.org, there are many reports of prolonged withdrawal syndrome, as well as many more about difficulty in tapering. (Case histories may be read here)
What’s emerged is that, at the risk of destabilizing their nervous systems, some people need very gradual tapering taking months or years to go off psychiatric medications.
If only people could find “a specialist who focuses on helping people discontinue psychiatric drugs”! I know of only a few such knowledgeable practitioners in the entire world. (I’m always looking for doctors who understand tapering to refer people to, if you know of such, please contact me through SurvivingAntidepressants.org.)
Every doctor who prescribes psychiatric medication should be well-versed in tapering techniques. Few know anything. (Do NOT skip doses to taper!!!!) This is a disgrace to all of medicine.
For more information and safer withdrawing tips on psychiatric drug withdrawal see: Psychiatric drug withdrawal 101
For support while withdrawing from psychiatric drugs see here: Support in withdrawal
Both of the above posts include many links to additional information and resources.
Some withdrawal stories:
● Pray, cry, scream, kick, write, whatever it takes, do not be silent, let it out. Benzodiazepine withdrawal recovery story
● Withdrawal from antidepressant leads to spiral into polydrugging, until Molly realizes that drugs are the problem and emerges victorious